Two Syrians walk along a fence near the Turkish-Syrian border in Gaziantep province, Turkey, November 30, 2016. Syrians who arrived in Turkey since late 2017 have been unable to register for temporary protection and receive basic services.

© 2016 Umit Bektas/Reuters
(Istanbul) – Turkish authorities in Istanbul and nine provinces on or near the Syrian border have stopped registering all but a handful of recently arrived Syrian asylum seekers. The suspension is leading to unlawful deportations, coerced returns to Syria, and the denial of health care and education.

The European Commission has recently praised Turkey’s asylum system and plans to release the second batch of €3 billion under its March 2016 migration deal which includes support for refugees in Turkey. European Union institutions and governments have stayed publicly silent on the suspension and other refugee abuses committed by Turkey, suggesting their primary concern is to halt the movement of asylum seekers and migrants from Turkey to the EU.

“While the EU supports Turkey to deter asylum seekers from reaching Europe, it’s turning a blind eye to Turkey’s latest steps to block and discourage people fleeing Syria,” said Gerry Simpson, associate refugee program director at Human Rights Watch. “But forcing Syrians who manage to get past Turkey’s border guards to live in legal limbo only risks driving them underground and onward to the EU.”

Syrian refugees queue for food aid in Gaziantep, Turkey on May 20, 2016. Turkey’s suspension of Syrian refugee registration blocks them from receiving such aid.

© 2016 Kyodo/ AP Images
The suspension of registration is Turkey’s latest effort to deny new asylum seekers protection. Over the past three years, Turkey has sealed off its border with Syria, while Turkish border guards continue to carry out mass summary pushbacks and to kill and injure Syrians as they try to cross.

Between early 2011 and the end of May 2018, Turkey had registered almost 3.6 million Syrians, making it the world’s largest refugee hosting country. That generosity does not absolve it, or its international partners, of the duty to help newly arrived asylum seekers, Human Rights Watch said. 

In mid-May 2018, Human Rights Watch interviewed 32 Syrians in Turkey’s Hatay province about their attempts to register for a temporary protection permit in Hatay, Gaziantep, and Istanbul provinces. A permit protects Syrians from arrest and the risk of deportation. It also entitles them to get health care and education, to work, and to seek social assistance, including the EU-funded Emergency Social Safety Net for the most vulnerable Syrians.

Syrians said Turkish police deported them in groups of up to 20 people for not having a permit and that hospitals and schools refused to take them in without permits. Some said they returned to Syria so they, or their relatives, could get urgent medical care. Others said they decided to return to Syria because only some family members had been able to register. All said, they lived in constant fear of arrest and deportation and severely restricted their movement to avoid the police.

Turkey is bound by the international customary law rule of nonrefoulement, which prohibits the return of anyone in any manner whatsoever to a place where they would face a real risk of persecution, torture or other ill-treatment, or a threat to life. This includes asylum seekers, who are entitled to have their claims fairly adjudicated and not be summarily returned to places where they fear harm. Turkey may not coerce people into returning to places where they face harm by denying them legal status or access to essential services.

On October 30, 2017, the Hatay governor’s office said that to discourage smugglers from helping Syrians enter Turkey through Hatay, the province would no longer register newly arriving Syrians for temporary protection permits. In early February 2018, Turkey’s Interior Ministry said Istanbul province would also no longer register Syrians.

Eight other provinces on or near the Syrian border have also suspended registration for newly arriving Syrians since late 2017 or early 2018, according to three agencies working closely with Syrian refugees, as well as a European Commission official and a Turkish public official who previously worked on migration issues. The provinces are Adana, Gaziantep, Kahramanmaraş, Kilis, Mardin, Mersin, Osmaniye, and Şanlıurfa.


© 2018 DigitalGlobe and © 2018 Human Rights Watch

Since late August 2015, only registered Syrians who obtain a special travel permit have been allowed to travel within Turkey. In practice, the vast majority of Syrian asylum seekers enter Turkey irregularly through the few remaining gaps in Turkey’s border wall in Hatay province. Blocked from registering there, they are unable to lawfully leave Hatay province and travel to other provinces where registration has not been closed. This forces them to live illegally in Hatay province, or to use smugglers to reach other parts of Turkey, risking arrest and deportation.

According to three confidential sources, Turkey has rejected proposals for a new system that would allow Syrians arriving in Hatay, and to a far lesser extent in other border provinces, to register in other parts of Turkey where fewer refugees live.

Refugee agencies told Human Rights Watch that Turkey’s strict controls on international and local refugee agencies prevent them from finding and helping unregistered Syrians. This lack of aid agency monitoring means that there are no statistics or estimates on the numbers of Syrians denied registration, deported, or refused urgently needed services.

In response to a June 13 letter presenting the Human Rights Watch findings, the migration authorities in Ankara denied that any of the country’s 81 provinces, including Hatay and Istanbul, had suspended registration of Syrians. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) told Human Rights Watch that as of mid-May, the authorities had reassured them that registration of Syrians was ongoing, including in Hatay and Istanbul. Other aid agencies that support refugees say that the authorities in the 10 provinces have only continued to process Syrians pre-registered at the time of the suspension, and to register urgent medical cases referred from Syria and babies born to registered Syrians in Turkey. Two refugee aid agencies also said that in some cases they have managed to convince the authorities in Hatay and Osmaniye provinces to register particularly vulnerable unregistered Syrians.

In early 2018, the authorities in Hatay opened a new registration center in Antakya. Representatives of three aid agencies and two Turkish security personnel working in Antakya said the center is exclusively for unregistered Syrians to request help to return to Syria, while registered Syrians can request help to return at other migration authority-run centers.

Turkey does not allow any independent monitoring of whether unregistered Syrians signing up for return are in fact returning voluntarily or whether they are effectively being coerced. In contrast, Turkey does allow independent monitoring of some registered Syrians’ decision to return to Syria.

Turkey should protect the basic rights of all newly arriving Syrians, regardless of registration status, and register those denied registration since late 2017. The European Commission and EU member states with embassies in Turkey should support Turkey to register and protect Syrians and press Turkey to allow all agencies working for refugees to freely assist and help protect all Syrians, including all unregistered Syrians.

“Unregistered Syrians in Turkey may be conveniently out of sight, but they shouldn’t be out of mind,” Simpson said. “EU states and the commission should speak up and support all Syrians in Turkey, not just those who got in before Turkey started driving them underground.”

For more details about Turkey’s suspension of Syrian asylum seeker registration, please see below.

Asylum Seeker Registration

The first Syrian refugees fled to Turkey in early 2011 and in the subsequent three-and-a-half years, Turkey adopted an ad hoc approach to their registration, without conferring a clear legal status with related rights. Although Turkey ratified the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, the country maintains a geographical limitation that excludes anyone not originally from a European country from full refugee recognition. That means it does not fully grant asylum to people fleeing violence or persecution in Syria and any other non-European country.

In 2013, Turkey adopted its own legal framework on the protection of asylum seekers and refugees. In October 2014, Turkey also adopted a regulation under which it grants Syrians temporary protection. As of June 28, 2018, Turkey said it had registered 3,562,523 people under the regulation. Registered Syrians are entitled to assistance. Even though the regulation says Syrians who fail to register will not be deported to Syria and will only face an “administrative fine,” Human Rights Watch found that unregistered Syrians have been deported for not having temporary protection permits.

The Hatay governor’s office and the interior minister said registration has been suspended for newly arriving Syrians in Hatay and Istanbul. Refugee aid agencies and Syrians in Hatay’s main city, Antakya, told Human Rights Watch that police carried out mass arrests of Syrians in November and early December, just after registration was suspended.

Five sources told Human Rights Watch that since late 2017 and early 2018, migration authorities in eight other border provinces followed suit and turned away all newly arriving Syrians seeking registration.

As of June 28, seven of the provinces that suspended registration were in the top 10 provinces hosting Syrians: Adana, Gaziantep, Hatay, Istanbul, Kilis, Mersin, and Şanlıurfa. Together they were sheltering 2,422,804 registered Syrians, or 68 percent of the total in Turkey. The other three – Kahramanmaraş, Mardin, and Osmaniye – were sheltering 235,549, or just under seven percent.

Aid agencies say that, in practice, the authorities in affected provinces continued to process Syrians pre-registered at the time of the suspension and to register people with urgent medical needs referred from Syria. They also continued to register babies born to registered Syrians in Turkey, an estimated 306 each day. Agencies with first-hand knowledge of the suspension of registration in the 10 provinces say the registration of these Syrians may explain the claim authorities made to Human Rights Watch that eight of the provinces on or near the border registered a total of 116,059 Syrians between November 1 and June 20.

One refugee aid agency with close knowledge of registration procedures in all of Turkey’s provinces told Human Rights Watch that in a few exceptional cases, authorities in Hatay and Osmaniye province have registered children in urgent need of medical care, together with one caregiver. Another refugee assistance agency that sometimes deals with unregistered Syrians said that between late 2017 and late April 2018, it had convinced the Hatay authorities to register a few dozen newly arrived Syrians on an exceptional basis because they had specific needs, but that even then it was a “headache” to get them through police checkpoints to registration offices. Agencies estimate that as of mid-May, the total number of such vulnerable cases of unregistered Syrians whom the authorities have registered on an exceptional basis was in the low hundreds.

Turkey’s travel permit system for registered Syrians prohibits unregistered Syrians from traveling from border provinces to register elsewhere. Seven Syrians told Human Rights Watch they paid smugglers to drive them from Antakya, in Hatay province, to Istanbul to register. But security officials at migration authority offices in Istanbul told them registration had been suspended for newly arriving Syrians.

UNHCR and some diplomats in Turkey told Human Rights Watch they have been encouraging Turkey’s Directorate General for Migration Management to adopt a referral system under which authorities in Hatay, or other border provinces where Syrians first arrive, would pre-register Syrians and then refer them to other provinces where fewer Syrians live to register. Some EU member states have proposed that if such a system were to be adopted, the EU should help support job-creation for Syrians and Turkish citizens in the provinces to which Syrians are referred. But all attempts to convince Turkey to set up a referral system have failed.

Consequences of Suspended Registration

In mid-May 2018, Human Rights Watch interviewed 32 Syrian asylum seekers in Antakya, the capital of Hatay Province, and the first city most Syrians reach after being smuggled across the closed Turkish border. They said the authorities in Antakya, the nearby town of Reyhanli, and in Gaziantep province had refused to register them during the first few months of 2018. They also described how not having a temporary protection permit – or “kimlik,” as it is popularly called (a Turkish shorthand for identification card) – had affected them. Human Rights Watch explained the purpose of the interviews, gave assurances of anonymity, and obtained interviewees’ consent to describe their experiences.

All said they were turned away from registration offices at least twice. Only three said they managed to register after brokers bribed registration officials between US$300 and $500.

Most said officials simply said “no more kimliks here” or “no one gets a kimlik” and told them to leave. Two said they also tried to register in Gaziantep in April, but that saw a sign on the office that said “no kimliks.”

Four said that only some members of their family had been registered, leaving the rest in legal limbo and that as a result, the entire family was contemplating returning to Syria. One man said his sick wife was given permission to enter Turkey for emergency medical treatment in Antakya, and was allowed to register there, together with their newborn baby. When he and their five other children, aged 6 to 14, managed to enter Turkey and tried to register in Antakya, they were turned away.

Three Syrians said that Turkish police had previously summarily deported them to Syria for not having a temporary protection permit. One, a 22-year-old man from Aleppo governorate, said he entered Turkey in early April and was refused registration in Antakya. In early May, he said, police stopped him at about 8 a.m. near the Antakya bus station and asked for his permit. When he said he tried to register, but had been turned away, the police drove him to a local police station, recorded his personal details, and then drove him and about 20 other unregistered Syrians to the Bab al-Hawa border crossing and deported them. He said 15 of the 20 told him they had been caught without temporary protection permits in Istanbul and the other five said they had just entered Turkey a few days earlier and were arrested after arriving at a smuggler’s house in Antakya. A few days later, he managed to return to Turkey with smugglers.

Another former deportee, a 28-year-old man from Idlib, said he and his brother entered Turkey together in January and were denied registration in Antakya. He said his brother traveled with a smuggler to Istanbul to find work there, but Turkish police arrested him on May 17 and the next day, took him to the Bab al-Hawa border crossing and deported him.

On May 22, Human Rights Watch spoke to a 31-year-old man from Hama who said the authorities in Antakya had arrested his brother a few hours earlier, were holding him in the new center for unregistered Syrians to sign up to return to Syria, and said they were about to deport him. Human Rights Watch alerted UNHCR, which intervened and prevented the deportation.

Human Rights Watch interviewed four Syrians at the newly established center for unregistered Syrians who wish to sign up for return to Syria. They decided to go back because their relatives had been denied urgent medical care, or because some family members who arrived after registration was suspended could not register.

Two Syrians said they heard from other Syrians in Antakya about many cases in which the wives of men who had been deported told Turkish authorities they planned to go back to Syria because they and their children could not survive alone in Turkey.

All of the 29 other unregistered Syrians interviewed said they lived in constant fear of arrest and deportation and said they heard of many cases involving the deportation of unregistered Syrians. Eight said they reduced their movements to a minimum, often staying at home for days at a time. A 17-year-old boy who said he never left his uncle’s house in Antakya out of fear of arrest said “this feels like prison.”

Three unregistered Syrians said they regularly use Syrian-owned driving services which use back roads to avoid police checkpoints or informal police stop-and-search patrols in Antakya.

Nine said they attempted to get medical treatment in clinics and hospitals in Antakya, but had been refused treatment because they were not registered. Four others said they did not even try to access medical care, because they heard others were turned away, and because they were afraid local hospitals would call the police to arrest them for not having a permit.

A 27-year-old woman from Idlib province seeking cancer treatment said two hospitals in Antakya refused to treat her because she did not have a permit.

A 34-year-old, eight months’ pregnant woman from Aleppo, with four children all born by caesarean section, said she was too afraid to go to the local hospital to ask for a checkup and prepare for her delivery, because she had been told hospitals turn away unregistered Syrians and was afraid of being arrested and returned to Syria.

Similarly, a 31-year-old woman whose entire family was refused registration in March said her husband was extremely sick with a serious lung condition, but he would not go to a hospital out of fear of being arrested and deported. She said he never left the house and lived in constant fear of being discovered.

A nongovernmental organization working with Syrians in Hatay province said that during the first few months of 2018, they heard of dozens of cases of Syrians in Antakya seeking emergency medical care, many of them pregnant women, who were turned away by hospitals because they had been denied registration.

Six Syrians interviewed by Human Rights Watch said their children were unable to go to school, because schools would only take registered Syrians.

Nowhere to Turn for Help

The Turkish authorities consider Syrians denied registration to be in the country unlawfully. Nongovernmental groups working with refugees said the government only allows them to work with lawfully present asylum seekers and refugees.

Six organizations working with refugees in Turkey’s provinces on the Syrian border – which asked to remain anonymous for the staff’s security – said Turkey strictly controls and monitors their work in various ways.

Some said they must get special permission to assess registered Syrians’ assistance needs or to visit registered Syrians’ homes, in some cases in the presence of staff from the Ministry of Family and Social Policies. The agencies said the rules are applied in an ad hoc and unpredictable way, depending on the local authorities, and they are never certain of what refugee outreach activities are allowed.

As a result, they said, they found it difficult to identify Syrians blocked from registration procedures, including the most vulnerable, for example those in urgent need of medical or other care. They also said the situation in Hatay province – through which almost all newly arriving Syrians using smugglers enter the country due to continued gaps in the border wall – is particularly sensitive.

Because of the restrictions imposed by the Turkish authorities, aid agencies said they cannot proactively identify unregistered Syrian refugees. At best, they can only react if they are made aware of unregistered Syrians who are seeking help, or if they come across them by chance. They said they sometimes raise the most vulnerable of such cases with the authorities in the hope that they will allow those in urgent need to register.

One agency working in the border areas said: “It’s very simple, we can’t just reach out to registered or unregistered Syrians. We need approval for everything and we’d never get approval to help unregistered Syrians.” Another agency worker said: “We have repeatedly asked the authorities for permission to do protection outreach work, but we’ve been refused every time.”

Agencies said their extremely limited contact with unregistered Syrians means they can neither estimate how many unregistered Syrians now live in Hatay and other provinces, nor the extent to which the registration suspension has led to deportation and denial of service access. EU member states and other donors funding Syrian refugee assistance and protection projects in Turkey therefore don’t know the extent to which Turkey’s registration suspension is excluding Syrians from receiving help.

European Union Remains Silent

EU member states and the European Commission have remained publicly silent on Turkey’s registration suspension, as they have on Turkey’s long-standing abuses against Syrian asylum seekers at the border.

Turkey’s suspension of registration could drive many Syrians underground and onward to the EU, or coerce them into going back to Syria. The suspension, Turkey’s ongoing border abuses, and its recent abuses against Afghan asylum seekers means that any attempts to return Syrians from Greece to Turkey is also likely to be met with significant resistance by lawyers challenging return attempts on the grounds that Turkey is not a safe third country to which to return asylum seekers.

On April 17, the European Commission released its latest update on whether Turkey is meeting the EU’s criteria for becoming an EU member state. As part of its assessment of Turkey’s asylum system, the commission said: “There have been reports of alleged expulsions, returns and deportations of Syrian nationals, in contradiction of the non-refoulement principle,” without going into any further details or citing the sources.

In March, the European Commission promised to release the second batch of €3 billion under its March 2016 deal with Turkey. Under the deal, the EU maintains that Turkey is a safe country to which to return Syrian asylum seekers. In fact, Turkey does not meet the EU safe third country criteria.


Turkey should resume temporary protection registration for all newly arriving Syrians and register those denied access to registration since late 2017. If necessary, Turkey should pre-register Syrians in its provinces on the Syrian border and require Syrians to move to, and live in, other provinces with fewer Syrians. In the meantime, Turkey should instruct all medical facilities to provide emergency medical treatment to any Syrian in need, regardless of registration status. Schools should also take in Syrian children pending their registration. All Turkish public officials should refer unregistered Syrians to the nearest registration center.

Turkey should also allow all refugee agencies working with Syrians to actively work to identify unregistered Syrians, help them access registration procedures, and raise with the authorities all cases of unregistered Syrians deported to Syria or denied access to health care and education.

To help ensure protection for Syrians in Turkey, the European Commission and EU member states with embassies in Turkey should press Turkey to resume registration of all newly arriving Syrians and guarantee their access to health care and education in line with existing policies. If Turkey requires help to resume registration, they should respond generously. They should also press Turkey to allow all agencies working with refugees to freely carry out protection monitoring work throughout Turkey to identify and assist unregistered Syrians and to publicly report on any abuses, including forced return to Syria, and denial of assistance.

Finally, the European Commission should proactively seek information and publicly report on credible accounts of killings, injuries, and mass deportations by Turkish security forces at the Syrian border, including in its regular reports on Turkey’s accession process and the European Agenda on Migration.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

France: Migrant Kids Left to Sleep in the Street

Child protection authorities in Paris are using flawed age assessment procedures for unaccompanied migrant youths, excluding many from care they need and are entitled to. Hundreds of unaccompanied children sleep on the streets of Paris each night, according to estimates from lawyers and nongovernmental organizations.

(Paris) – Child protection authorities in Paris are using flawed age assessment procedures for unaccompanied migrant children, excluding many from care they need and are entitled to, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Hundreds of these young migrants find themselves homeless, often condemned to sleep on the streets of Paris.

The 57-page report, “‘Like a Lottery’: Arbitrary Treatment of Unaccompanied Migrant Children in Paris”, found that arbitrary practices can lead to unaccompanied children being erroneously considered adults, leaving then ineligible for emergency shelter and other protection given to children. Many youths who request protection from the child welfare system are turned away summarily and inaccurately, based on appearance alone. Others are rejected without written decisions after interviews lasting as little as five minutes, contrary to French regulations.

“These children have suffered through incredibly difficult and dangerous journeys, only to be deprived of the protection and care they need,” said Bénédicte Jeannerod, France director at Human Rights Watch. “Deeply flawed procedures mean that children may be arbitrarily turned away at the door of the evaluation office, denied protection after a short interview, or tied up in arduous court procedures and left in limbo for months.”

Human Rights Watch interviewed 49 unaccompanied children and reviewed age assessments in an additional 35 cases. Human Rights Watch also spoke with lawyers, health care providers, staff and volunteers of humanitarian agencies and informal associations, and government officials.

Youths who receive full interviews are often denied recognition as children if they lack identity documents, Human Rights Watch found. But international standards and French regulations establish that the primary method of establishing approximate age should be through interviews, recognizing that documents may be lost during arduous journeys.

Even those who have documents are frequently rejected. Child welfare authorities and judges question birth certificates, passports, and other identity documents despite the rule in French law that such documents are presumptively valid unless there are substantiated reasons to believe otherwise.

The review of case files found other invalid grounds for concluding that a person was an adult. Work in the home country or on the journey to Europe was frequently cited, even though millions of children around the world work, including in hazardous or harmful forms of labor. Child protection authorities also often cited the youth’s decision to travel without parents, though many thousands of children travel on their own to Europe each year.

In other cases, examiners told youths from French-speaking countries that they spoke French too well. Imrane O., from Côte d’Ivoire, who gave his age as 15, told Human Rights Watch that his examiner “said that I was answering her questions too well. Because I could answer her questions, I couldn’t be a minor. How is that? I did eight years of schooling, in French. Of course I could answer her questions.”

In the cases studied, child protection authorities also frequently relied on subjective factors such as “bearing” or comportment. Some youths received adverse age assessments based in part on expressing irritation with repeated questioning or presenting their case forcefully, behaviors that can be exhibited at any age. Many more were simply told they had the bearing of an adult, without further explanation.

When children seek review of adverse decisions, some judges regularly order bone tests to determine their age. Medical bodies in France and elsewhere have repeatedly found that bone and other medical examinations are not a reliable means of determining age, particularly for older adolescents, and have called for ending their use.

The cumulative effect of arbitrary decision-making is that age assessments in Paris are “like a lottery: sometimes you win, but most of the time you lose, even if you’re underage,” an aid worker with the nongovernmental organization Utopia 56 told Human Rights Watch.

The number of unaccompanied migrant children arriving in Paris, as well as in France overall, has increased in recent years. France’s child welfare system took more than 25,000 unaccompanied migrant children into care in 2017, an increase of 92 percent from the previous year. Nearly half of unaccompanied children who seek protection from the child welfare system in France do so in Paris. In February 2018, when Human Rights Watch began this research, an estimated 400 unaccompanied children were “sleeping rough” (outside) in the French capital, , according to estimates from lawyers and nongovernmental organizations. Current estimates are lower.

Ordinary citizens, on their own and in groups, have stepped in to address some of these children’s needs, providing food and other services, organizing football clubs, improvisational theatre, and other activities, and in some cases opening their homes to give children a place to stay for a night or two, or even longer.

But these laudable efforts, along with services provided by nongovernmental groups such as Médécins sans Frontières and Utopia 56, depend on volunteers and cannot meet the need. In contrast, France has both the means and the obligation to provide appropriate care and protection to all children within French territory, regardless of migration status.

French national and departmental authorities should ensure that age assessments are used only when authorities have well-founded doubts about an individual’s claim to be under 18, Human Rights Watch said. In such cases, they should take appropriate steps to determine age and establish eligibility for services, bearing in mind that all age assessments will be estimates. These steps should include interviews by professionals with the expertise to work with children, as international standards recommend.

France also should end the use of bone tests and similar discredited medical examinations.

“Instead of giving youths the benefit of the doubt, as they should, child protection services seem to be doing everything they can to exclude youths from the child care system,” Jeannerod said. “The French authorities should immediately put an end to arbitrary age decisions and provide sufficient resources to take care of and protect unaccompanied migrant children.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

(New York) – The Afghan government is failing to protect tens of thousands of children, some as young as 5, from hazardous conditions in the workplace, in violation of Afghanistan’s labor laws.

Helal, 10, works as a brick maker at a brick kiln outside Kabul. He told Human Rights Watch that the brick mold is heavy and his hands hurt working with wet clay. Helal doesn’t go to school because he has to work. 

© 2016 Bethany Matta/Human Rights Watch

The 31-page report, “‘They Bear All the Pain’: Hazardous Child Labor in Afghanistan,” documents how child workers work dangerous jobs in Afghanistan’s carpet industry; as bonded labor in brick kilns; and as metal workers. They perform tasks that could result in illness, injury, or even death due to hazardous working conditions and poor enforcement of safety and health standards. Many children who work under those conditions combine the burdens of a job with school, or forego education altogether. Working compels many children in Afghanistan to leave school prematurely. Only half of children involved in child labor attend school. 

“Thousands of Afghan children risk their health and safety every day to put food on the family table,” said Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The Afghan government needs to do a better job of protecting its children – and the country’s future – by enforcing the law prohibiting dangerous work for children.”


Video: Kids at Work, Out of School in Afghanistan

The Afghan government is failing to protect tens of thousands of children, some as young as 5, from hazardous conditions in the workplace, in violation of Afghanistan’s labor laws. 

The government has failed to enforce prohibitions against child labor in hazardous industries, and has stalled in its effort to overhaul its labor law to bring it into line with international standards, Human Rights Watch said. Government institutions responsible for enforcing the law often lack the capacity to inspect workplaces, with the result that children working in prohibited jobs go unnoticed and unprotected.

In 2014, the Afghan government published a list of 19 hazardous occupations prohibited for children. These jobs include carpet weaving, metal work, and brick making. While a lack of resources is an important factor in the persistence of child labor in hazardous industries, the Afghan government has also failed to enforce its labor laws through penalties for violators and a strategy to end exploitative labor conditions.

A brick kiln manager in Kabul told Human Rights Watch: “There are children here, starting from 10 years or 8 years of age to 15 or 16… They wake up at 3 in the morning and work until about evening… They complain of pain, but what can they do? The kids are here to make a living. They bear all the pain to do all the work.”

Extreme poverty often drives Afghan children into hazardous labor. Afghanistan remains one of the poorest countries in the world. Landlessness, illiteracy, high unemployment, and continuing armed conflict in much of the country are among the most important factors contributing to chronic poverty and, as a result, child labor.

A 13-year-old metal worker in Kabul said, “My fingers have been cut from the sharp edges of the metal and slammed by the hammer. My finger has also been caught in the trimming-beading machine. When your nail gets hit by a hammer or caught in the machine, it becomes black and eventually falls off.”

Thousands of Afghan children risk their health and safety every day to put food on the family table. The Afghan government needs to do a better job of protecting its children – and the country’s future – by enforcing the law prohibiting dangerous work for children.

Phelim Kine

Deputy Director, Asia Division

While work that is appropriate to a child’s age and under healthy and safe conditions can be beneficial to the child’s development and allow them to contribute to their family’s basic needs, work that interferes with a child’s education, or is likely to jeopardize their health or safety, is generally considered “child labor” and is prohibited under international law.

Although pilot projects extending community-based schools to reach vulnerable children have been promising, support for these schools is inadequate to the need. Eradicating child labor in Afghanistan is not feasible so long as extreme poverty continues, but the government and its donors can take steps to protect children from the risks associated with working in particularly dangerous or unhealthy conditions.

Those steps include increasing the number of labor inspectors to adequately cover the entire country; giving priority to monitoring hazardous sectors; and offering the Afghan government targeted technical assistance in devising and implementing policies, standards, and regulations against child labor. Both the government and its foreign donors should devote more resources to expanding educational support to all working children.

The government has a legal obligation under international law to take immediate action to eradicate hazardous child labor. Both Afghanistan and its foreign donors should take urgent steps to protect children from the risks associated with working in particularly dangerous or unhealthy conditions.

“When children are of legal age and work in safe conditions, they can help provide vital livelihood support for many Afghan families,” Kine said. “But the Afghan government has an obligation to enforce the laws that protect children in the workplace, and ensure that they neither have to sacrifice their education or safety as the price for supporting their families.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Zama Neff is the executive director of the children's rights division of Human Rights Watch. She also co-chairs the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA). Neff has conducted fact-finding investigations and is the author of reports and articles on a range of issues affecting children, including access to education, police violence, refugee protection, the worst forms of child labor, and discrimination against women and girls. She has published on op-ed pages in major international and US publications and speaks regularly to the media. During a sabbatical, she ran a protection monitoring team for the Norwegian Refugee Council in Sri Lanka. Before joining Human Rights Watch in 1999, Neff clerked for a US federal judge, advocated on behalf of immigrants and refugees in the US, and worked with community development and women's organizations in Honduras. She is a graduate of Davidson College and New York University School of Law.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Deaf children have a right to a quality education, like all other children, in a language and environment that maximizes their potential. In this video, in conjunction with a global conference in Sydney on equality for deaf people, Human Rights Watch shows some of the challenges faced by deaf children and young people, and the opportunities sign language education offers them.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A young girl ties tobacco leaves onto sticks to prepare them for curing in East Lombok, West Nusa Tenggara.

© 2015 Marcus Bleasdale for Human Rights Watch

Of the products we use, wear, or consume every day, how many are made with child labor? Perhaps quite a few. A new report from the US Department of Labor identifies 148 different consumer goods produced with child or forced labor around the world. The list includes clothing, beef, sugar, bricks, coffee, and other products originating from 76 countries.

Gold tops the list. The report found that in at least 21 countries, children help mine gold, climbing into unstable shafts, carrying and crushing heavy loads of ore, and often using toxic mercury to process the gold. My colleagues and I have seen how dangerous this work can be, documenting the risks child miners face in Ghana, Philippines, Tanzania, and Mali.

Tobacco produced with child labor originates from at least 16 countries, placing it in the report’s top five. Child tobacco workers often labor in extreme heat, are exposed to dangerous pesticides, and risk nicotine poisoning from handling tobacco plants. In our investigations, children in the United States, Indonesia, and Zimbabwe have described nausea, vomiting, headaches, and dizziness while working in tobacco fields.

Governments, companies, and consumers share responsibility to end child labor. Governments should monitor and enforce their labor laws and provide children with good-quality, free education.

For children old enough to work, both governments and companies should ensure their jobs do not risk anyone’s health or safety. Companies should also monitor their supply chains, report on their efforts, and when child labor is found, transition these children to school or safe alternatives. Our report on the jewelry industry outlines steps companies should take.  

Consumers can ask retailers and manufacturers about their child labor policies and practices.

Ending child labor is possible. Since 2000, the number of children involved in it has dropped by a third ‒ from 245 million to 152 million. In the last two years, the Department of Labor found that 17 governments have made “significant” advancement in ending child labor, and another 60 have made “moderate” advancements. It noted particular progress in ending child labor in Panama’s sugar production, and cotton harvesting in Paraguay and Uzbekistan.

Still, we have a long way to go. Products that are part of our daily lives shouldn’t come at the expense of children’s health, safety, and education.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Palestinian girls walk in the courtyard of the primary school in Khan al-Ahmar in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, September 6, 2018. 

© 2018 Ahmad Gharabli/AFP/Getty Images

Residents of Khan al-Ahmar thought they had found a way around Israel’s discriminatory  building permit regime in Area C of the West Bank. Since a building permit is required only for concrete structures, they built their school, which serves 160 children from five villages, using clay and 2,200 old tires.

The plan didn’t work. The Israeli army has exclusive control over planning in Area C. It has allocated just one percent of that land for Palestinian buildings, and refuses the vast majority of Palestinian permit applications.

Khan al-Ahmar was no exception. Over the years, Israeli authorities issued demolition orders against the school and every other structure in this small village of 180 residents, just east of Jerusalem, on the grounds that they lacked permits. On September 5, Israel’s High Court rejected several appeals, and green-lighted demolition.

Israeli military planning documents do not recognize the community’s presence, and Israeli authorities have repeatedly confiscated its land, demolished its buildings, and expelled its Palestinian residents for building without permits.

This isn’t the community’s first displacement. In the early 1950s, Israeli forces evicted residents from the Tel Arad district of the Negev desert. The community fled to the West Bank and built a village in the current location. They registered as Palestine refugees with the United Nations.

In 1977, Israel established the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim, allocating it the land on which Khan al-Ahmar sits.

International law prohibits an occupying power from destroying property, including schools, unless “absolutely necessary” for “military operations.” Transferring civilians within an occupied territory, either by direct force or indirect coercion into a place not of their choosing, is a war crime under the International Criminal Court’s statute.

Israeli officials should know that the demolition and any resulting displacement of the population may subject them to criminal investigation.

Other states also have a duty to ensure that the Geneva Conventions are respected, and should make clear to Israeli officials that, if the demolition goes ahead, people implicated in any criminal acts could be investigated and prosecuted by domestic authorities outside of Israel where they have jurisdiction.  

Global condemnation alone has not stopped serious war crimes during Israel’s 50-year occupation. Action and justice is long overdue.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A Mission Police Dept. officer (L), and a U.S. Border Patrol agent watch over a group of Central American asylum seekers before taking them into custody on June 12, 2018 near McAllen, Texas.

© 2018 John Moore/Getty Images
After the Trump administration was slammed with lawsuits for separating migrant children and parents at the border, the US government has agreed to allow many of these parents, whose asylum claims were rejected, to reapply.

It’s the official beginning of recognizing the ways this policy harmed parents and children.

In the hours and days after families were forcibly separated, immigration officials informed some traumatized parents that they would have to undergo interviews for the first step in the US asylum process.

Ariel P., from Guatemala, told me his interview took place after he had not seen or spoken to his son in over 20 days and did not even know where he was. “All I could think about was how he was and when I would see him again. Every night when I went to sleep, I would think about where he was sleeping.. . . . It was impossible for me to focus on anything else,” he said.

The other separated parents I interviewed echoed these comments.

It’s not surprising that many of the parents who went through these interviews weren’t able to make their case for asylum, even when they had fled rape, other torture, or death threats. This settlement recognizes, and tries to remedy, this problem – for some.

But the proposed settlement doesn’t correct all the harm inflicted on all families.

For example, the settlement generally excludes deported parents who were unfairly blocked from an asylum interview before deportation, or who believed immigration officials’ lies that accepting deportation was the key to seeing their children again. Human Rights Watch interviewed deported parents in Honduras and El Salvador who were denied an initial asylum interview, which is not adequately remedied in the proposal.

And the proposed settlement doesn’t address the lasting harm of family separation on parents and children (many of whom still languish in detention centers); or the government’s latest attempts to remove time limits on family immigration detention, despite the “high risk of harm” to children; or the US Attorney General’s effort to impede people from making lawful asylum claims.

If accepted by the court, the agreement would be a vindication for the parents and children still in the United States who this policy harmed. It’s a significant step towards accountability for families who came to the United States seeking safety and opportunity and found new trauma instead.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Police detain a protester in St. Petersburg, Russia.

© 2018 David Frenkel/Mediazona
(Moscow) – Police arbitrarily detained hundreds of peaceful protesters, including older people and children, taking part in demonstrations across Russia on September 9, Human Rights Watch said today. The detainees were protesting corruption and government plans to raise the pension age. In many cities, the police kicked peaceful protesters and beat them with truncheons.
Human Rights Watch interviewed five people arrested during the protests in St. Petersburg, including two children, ages 16 and 17, and an 80-year old man. Human Rights Watch also reviewed images, video footage, and media reports from the rallies.
“The government’s strong-arm response is a warning to Russians that the government doesn’t want them to protest plans for the pension system, or to protest anything else,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Nevertheless, people have a right to express their views about pension reform, which will have direct, personal impact, or any other issue of public interest, including by peacefully taking to the streets to do so.” 
Protestors who were beaten by police sustained injuries, including bruising, abrasions, fractures, and concussions. A widely shared video shows a member of parliament, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, hitting a protester in Moscow in the face, saying, “I’m telling you right now, I’ll hit you in the skull until you bleed.” 
According to OVD-Info, an independent group that monitors arbitrary detentions and police abuse, law enforcement officers detained at least 1,195 people, including at least 60 children, across 39 cities. At least 623 people were arrested in St. Petersburg and 184 in Ekaterinburg. Police also detained at least 14 journalists who were covering the protests and beat at least three of them. 
Most of those detained received court orders to pay fines, starting at 5,000 rubles (about US$72), or to complete up to 120 hours of community service, or sentences of up to 15 days detention. One supporter of Alexei Navalny, the political opposition leader who had called for nationwide protests, was sentenced to the maximum 300,000 ruble (US$4,306) fine by a court in Tambov. 
Human Rights Watch interviewed four people in St. Petersburg who were rounded up between 5:30 and 6 p.m., as police encircled protesters on the Pirogovskaya Embankment. They were taken to various police stations. 
One of them was a 17-year-old boy who said that he was terrified as the police cordoned off the crowd into several rings and forced him into one of them. “They were pushing us from all sides, and beat people who tried to resist,” he said. 
A 21-year-old woman said she was not one of the protesters but was caught up in a police encirclement on the embankment. Police kept the crowd tightly squeezed together for about an hour, during which she saw a man pass out and several women who appeared to be having panic attacks. Police did not call for medical help, she said.
The people interviewed said the police packed protesters into overcrowded buses, and three of them, each on a different bus, said they were driven around for about four hours, then taken to police stations for processing. The young woman said that when a young man on her bus got sick during the ride, police dragged him out to the sidewalk, where he lay until an ambulance came about 20 minutes later.

Police in St. Petersburg detain Yuri Sternik, a pensioner, in St. Petersburg, Russia.

© 2018 David Frenkel/Mediazona
The 80-year-old man who was interviewed said that he left the main protest near Lenin Square around 2:40 p.m. and stopped a few streets away. He formed a single-person-protest, wearing a hat with photos and slogans protesting the pension reform. Five minutes after he began his individual protest, police detained him. He said police pushed him onto a bus, after which he became ill and had to be taken directly to a hospital, where he underwent tests and was released the same evening.
None of the protesters interviewed said they saw police maltreat other protestors at the stations. The 16-year-old boy said he saw at least 17 other children, including four who were the same age as him, in the police station where he was taken to wait for a charge sheet. 
His arrest report was drawn up only after his parents arrived at the station, and he was released before midnight. 
Police released the 17-year-old boy at 11:30 p.m. The next day, the boy observed some of the court hearings, and said he witnessed one judge warning detainees that raising objections would increase their penalties.
Human Rights Watch also interviewed a young woman and a 35-year-old man who spent the night at the police station, and the next day were fined in one case 10,000 rubles (US$145) and 15,000 rubles (US$217) in the other. 
The protests coincided with local elections in 80 regions. Local authorities in 12 cities permitted the protests to takes place, but 59 other cities refused permission. The St. Petersburg local authorities at first authorized a rally there but withdrew permission three days beforehand, claiming that there was a damaged water pipe near the approved site.
In early August, Navalny had called for nationwide protests against raising the retirement age. On August 25, police detained him for organizing “Voter’s Strike” rallies in January to boycott the presidential election. On August 27, a court found him guilty of repeated violations of regulations on public gatherings and sentenced him to 30 days in jail. 
Between September 4 and 9, police detained at least 48 other activists in 20 cities, including nine coordinators with Navalny’s regional offices. Most had to spend a night at a police station, and 14 were charged with misdemeanors, including swearing in public and public rally violations. Authorities also pressed criminal charges against 25-year-old Navalny supporter, Taras Loboychenko from Chelyabinsk, for allegedly calling for public riots. If convicted, Loboychenko faces up to three years in prison. 
“Rounding up peaceful protesters violates fundamental human rights, even if the demonstration wasn’t pre-authorized,” Williamson said. “It’s also very unlikely to persuade people that the government’s pension reforms are being made in their best interests.” 
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A child in the Moria “hotspot” camp on the Greek island of Lesbos, December 2017. Parents in the camp said their children cannot access adequate healthcare. © Bill Van Esveld / Human Rights Watch, 2017.

Greek Prime Minister Alex Tsipras will “debate the future of Europe” today with the European Commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, and European Parliament members, part of a debate series about how to improve the EU. Appropriately, it is the first day of school in Greece.

But not for all children. What does it mean for the future of Europe that Greece is failing to ensure that thousands of children will be able to sit in a classroom, but rather is warehousing them in isolated, EU-sponsored camps on the Aegean islands?

Officials have claimed that asylum seekers on the islands are “in transit” and don’t need schools, but this amounts to a policy of just wishing that thousands of children would go away.

Greece has done an abysmal job of providing education to asylum-seeking children on the islands, yet with EU encouragement it insists on keeping them there. “Aram,” a father from Kobane, Syria who had been living with his four school-age children in a camp on Lesbos for more than a year told us last summer: “Without education they lose their future, but they have not done anything wrong.”

On the mainland, the Education Ministry opened classes to help some asylum-seeking children to learn Greek, and to help those who had been out of school – often due to war or because they were forced to take dangerous journeys – catch up to their grade level.

These programs were virtually unavailable to children stuck in the government-run camps on the islands. By the end of the 2017-2018 school year, Human Rights Watch found that fewer than 400 of more than 3,000 school-age asylum-seeking children there were in school. None of the boys and girls we interviewed who did manage to go to school started the school year on time last September.

The European Commission says it has allocated €393 million in emergency assistance to Greece, an additional €322.8 million under the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund, and €238 million more for border security. Is Brussels troubled at all that rates of school enrollment for asylum-seeking children are worse on Lesbos, Chios, and Samos than in Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey?

Children stuck on the islands are victims of Greece’s EU-backed policy to keep asylum seekers who arrive by sea from Turkey there until their claims are adjudicated. If their asylum claims are rejected, they are supposed to be sent back to Turkey – a country that is not safe for refugees. If accepted, they are supposed to go to the mainland. All this is to happen promptly.

In fact, families are forced to wait nine months or more for an asylum interview. With new arrivals outstripping departures, the unsanitary, dangerous island camps remain badly overcrowded.

Greece, with encouragement from other EU member states, has clung tenaciously to this containment policy.  The Greek asylum service has even blocked sick children from seeking needed treatment on the mainland. “My daughter is dying in front of my eyes and I can do nothing,” one girl’s father told me.

No official can claim not to know that the containment policy is inflicting immense suffering on people. In July 2017, we documented a mental health crisis on the islands. “Camps are places where vulnerabilities are created,” an International Organization for Migration official told us. “My hope is dead since they brought me here,” a mother of four children said. A year later, Doctors Without Borders reported that conditions in Moria camp on Lesbos had deteriorated even further, to the extent that children were being retraumatized and an increasing number were having “intense panic attacks, suicidal ideations and suicide attempts.”

Greece, and the EU, will bear the costs of this policy failure for years to come. Children deprived of education are vulnerable to exploitation, hazardous child labor, and a lifetime of poverty. Their healthcare costs will be far higher than those of people with an education. Their annual income will shrink by 9 percent for every year of education they were denied.

The future of refugee children in Europe depends on the EU. And Europe’s treatment of refugee children today may hint at the type of place Europe will become tomorrow. The Greek government should end the containment policy, and in the interim, Greek schools should ensure their doors are open to all children, including those on the islands.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Ain Issa displaced persons camp, one of three camps in northeast Syria where Human Rights Watch found the Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG) have been recruiting children for military participation, June 2017.

© 2017 Chris Huby/Le Pictorium/Barc/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a coalition of forces controlling parts of Syria’s northeast, has taken an important step towards ending the use of child soldiers in their ranks. The SDF issued a military order banning the recruitment of anyone under 18 and ordering their military records office to verify the ages of those currently enlisted.

In August, Human Rights Watch documented the recruitment of children by the SDF’s largest constituent, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), from three displacement camps in northeast Syria, including six girls who enlisted voluntarily but without permission from families. Families told us of their debilitating fear for their children, and few had any contact with their kids after they enlisted. “We just want to know if she’s alive or dead,” the mother of a 17-year-old girl recruit said.

A report by the United Nations Secretary General found 224 cases of child recruitment by the YPG and its women’s unit in 2017, an almost fivefold increase from the previous year. If the order banning child recruitment is implemented, these children should be demobilized and reunited with families or transferred to civilian authorities who should protect them in cases where they are at risk of domestic abuse if returned to their family.

The order calls for SDF commanders to transfer any member under 18 to the educational authorities in northeast Syria and to end salary payments. It makes military commanders responsible for appointing ombudspeople to receive complaints of child recruitment, and orders punitive measures against commanders who fail to comply with the ban on child recruitment. We and other groups, like Geneva Call, have called on the YPG to end child recruitment in Syria since 2014, but the abuse proliferated during heavy fighting last year. If implemented, the new SDF order is a welcome step towards protecting the children of Syria, many of whom have already had to flee their homes, and whose future remains so uncertain.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Submission by Human Rights Watch to the Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights on Argentina

64th session, 2018

This submission focuses on the topics of women’s and girls’ right to access a safe abortion, accountability for past abuses against children, and the protection of students, teachers, and schools during time of armed conflict.
Access to Abortion

(Article 12)

Abortion is currently illegal in Argentina, except in cases of rape or when the life or health of the woman or girl is at risk. But even in such cases, women and girls are sometimes subject to criminal prosecution for seeking abortions, and often have trouble accessing reproductive health services, such as contraception and voluntary sterilization.[1]

In 2016, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women urged Argentina to legalize abortion not only in cases of rape and risk to the life or health of the pregnant woman but also other circumstances such as incest and when there is a risk of severe fetal impairment. 
On June 13, 2018, Argentina’s House of Representatives approved a bill to decriminalize abortion during the first 14 weeks of pregnancy. The bill would have allowed women and girls to end their pregnancy after that period if the pregnancy is the result of rape, the life and health of the women or girl is at risk, or the fetus suffers severe conditions not compatible with life outside of the womb. In August, the Senate rejected the bill, meaning women and girls will continue to risk their health and lives to have clandestine abortions.

Under international human rights law, Argentina should decriminalize abortion and ensure safe, legal access to abortion, at a minimum, when the life or health of the pregnant woman is at risk, when the fetus has a serious condition incompatible with life outside the womb, or when the pregnancy resulted from sexual violence. Authoritative interpretations of treaties ratified by Argentina have long established that highly restrictive or criminal abortion laws violate the human rights of women and girls, including their rights to life, health, and not to be subjected to cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.[2]
Human Rights Watch recommends the Committee ask the government of Argentina:

  • What steps will the government take to address the public health impacts of the criminalization of abortion, given Congress failed to change laws criminalizing abortion?
  • What is the government doing to ensure that all adolescent girls and boys, both in and out of school, are provided with, and not denied, accurate and appropriate information on how to protect their health and development and practice healthy behaviors, including information on safe sexual behavior, and accurate information on contraception?
  • During the reporting period, how many arrests and prosecutions have been carried out of either providers or recipients of abortion services?

Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee:

  • Recommend that Argentina decriminalize abortion and take all necessary steps, both immediate and incremental, to ensure that women and girls have informed and free access to safe and legal abortion services, and post-abortion care, as an element of their exercise of their reproductive and other human rights.

Accountability for child abductions and disappearances

Article 10 (1)

Argentina has made significant progress in identifying children of the disappeared who were illegally taken from their families during the dictatorship and bringing those responsible to justice. As of August 2018, 127 people who were illegally taken from their parents as children during the 1976-1983 dictatorship had been located.[3] Many were reunited with their biological families.
Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee:

  • Ask the delegation from Argentina to provide updated information on the status of prosecutions and the government’s policies to move forward with the identification of children who were abducted during the dictatorship.
  • Recommend that Argentina avoids unnecessary delays in these prosecutions that could undermine the pursuit of justice. 

Protecting Students, Teachers, and Schools During Armed Conflict

(Article 13)

Since 2014, Argentina has taken a leading role in promoting the protection of students, teachers, schools, and universities during times of armed conflict, through its championing of the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict and the Safe Schools Declaration. 
The Guidelines were drawn up with the aim of better protecting schools and universities from use by armed groups for military purposes, and to minimize the negative impact that armed conflict has on students’ safety and education. They provide concrete guidance to states and non-state armed groups for the planning and execution of military operations. They may also serve as a tool for organizations engaged in monitoring, programming, and advocacy related to the conduct of armed conflicts.[4] A draft version of the Guidelines were prepared based on consultations with representatives from governments—including Argentina—as well as militaries, UN agencies, and intergovernmental and nongovernmental organizations. They were finalized through a state-led process headed by Norway and Argentina in December 2014.
The Safe Schools Declaration is an inter-governmental political commitment that was opened for endorsement by countries at an international conference held in Oslo, Norway, on 28 May 2015. The Safe Schools Declaration was developed through consultations with states led by the ministries of foreign affairs of Norway and Argentina between January and May 2015.[5]
In March 2017, Argentina hosted the Second International Safe Schools Conference in Buenos Aires, with representatives from more than 80 countries in attendance. 
Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee:

  • Commend Argentina for its leadership role on the Safe Schools Declaration and the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict.
  • Encourage Argentina to continue to develop and share examples of its implementation of the Declaration’s commitments with other countries that have endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration and with the Committee as examples of good practice in protecting students, teachers, and schools during armed conflict.

[1] “Argentina: Decriminalize Abortion,” Human Rights Watch news release, June 12, 2018,

[2] “Testimony at the Argentine Congress on decriminalization of abortion,” Human Rights Watch, June 12, 2018,

[3] Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo, “Resolved Cases,” n.d., (accessed August 2, 2018).

[4] Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack, Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict, March 18, 2014, (accessed July 26, 2018).

[5] Safe Schools Declaration, May 28, 2015, (accessed July 26, 2018).

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

New Video Shows Agony of Parents' Separation From Children by US Officials

Hundreds of children remain detained in the United States and separated from their parents more than five weeks after a court-ordered deadline to reunify them. About 360 of these still-separated parents were deported alone without the children with whom they traveled to the US.

(Tegucigalpa) — Hundreds of children remain detained in the United States and separated from their parents more than five weeks after a court-ordered deadline to reunify them, Human Rights Watch said today in releasing a new video with Justice in Motion. About 360 of these still-separated parents were deported alone without the children with whom they traveled to the US.

“The anguish of these families is palpable,” said Clara Long, senior researcher with the US Program at Human Rights Watch. “Not knowing how their children are or why the government won’t release them causes tremendous strain.”

In the last two months, Human Rights Watch and Justice in Motion, which protects migrants’ rights in Latin America and the United States, have conducted in-depth interviews with parents in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala whose children remain in the United States. Many said they have spent months with no idea why their children have not been released or returned, causing severe psychological harm. The video features two fathers deported to Guatemala describing their experiences.

“More than anything, we are being traumatized,” said Pablo D. from his home in the Department of Huehuetenango, Guatemala. He asked to be identified this way out of concern that speaking out would in any way delay his reunification with his son. His 8-year old son Byron has been detained in the United States since late May 2018. “The parents, we’re just trying to survive this. Imagine the kids, they are alone. It’s as if their parents don’t exist.”

Many of the parents interviewed agreed to deportation expecting their child to go with them. Some have made the difficult decision to allow their children to remain in the United States to pursue their own immigration claims, but others want their children to return and have found themselves waiting for months for reunification.

“We don’t know anything,” said Marcelino Claudio Garcia, a Guatemalan whose 8-year old daughter has also been detained in the United States since late May. “We were told that she was going to see an immigration judge. We just want her to come home.”

More than 2,500 families were forcibly separated from the fall of 2017 until the end of June as the Trump administration rolled out a plan to separate families and target parents traveling with children for criminal prosecution in addition to deportation. Immigration agencies sent the children and parents who were ripped apart at the border to separate and sometimes far-flung detention facilities, without a plan for maintaining parental contact or facilitating reunification.

After a court order in late June, thousands of families have been reunified in the United States both in and out of detention.  However, nearly two-thirds of the almost 500 children still in custody alone – including 22 children under age 5 – have parents who were deported. The federal court ordered reunification deadline of July 26 applies to these deported parents, but for many their separation drags on.

Worry over their children has caused parents to stop eating, have difficulty sleeping, suffer from nightmares, and in one case be hospitalized for anxiety, families told Human Rights Watch. After reunification, several families reported that their children appeared traumatized by their experiences.

“When Meybelin returned, she was a very different girl,” said Arnovis de los Santos, a Salvadoran father whose 6-year old was held separately from him for over a month and who was eventually deported without her. “She almost never spoke and was extremely attached to me—I couldn’t even go to the store because she would cry and hold on to me. She would also refuse to talk to anyone she didn’t know and would just start crying when someone she didn’t know got close.”

Ultimately, those who devised and carried out the family separation policy for the United States should be held accountable and the children and parents harmed provided with an adequate remedy, Human Rights Watch and Justice in Motion said.

“The government’s lack of urgency in fixing the harm it has caused is appalling,” said Cathleen Caron, executive director of Justice in Motion. “Each additional day of separation only compounds the injury to these families.”


Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A girl works in an artisanal diamond mine in Sosso Nakombo, Central African Republic, near the border with Cameroon, in August 2015.

© 2015 Marcus Bleasdale for Human Rights Watch

This week, hundreds of jewellers from around the world attended International Jewellery London. Last year, it drew about 9,000 industry representatives from 71 countries, discussing everything from jewellery design and manufacturing to marketing. This year, jewellery free of human rights abuses was also on the agenda.

Gold mining has been tainted by serious human rights abuses, including child labor, deadly working conditions, forced evictions, and harmful pollution. Human Rights Watch has documented such abuses in the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Ghana, Mali, Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda, and Eritrea.

We have also investigated how jewelry companies are trying to avoid contributing to human rights abuses in their gold and diamond supply chains. We recently took a closer look at 13 leading jewellery brands, with a combined annual revenue of over £20 billion. Many companies don’t know where their gold and diamonds are coming from, and don’t do enough to assess human rights risks. Some jewellery companies publish sparse, general information about human rights risks in their supply chains, which is nowhere near enough for a consumer to make an informed choice.

Many of the companies we contacted pointed to the Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC) and their certification against its standards. These companies considered their RJC certification proof of responsible sourcing. But this industry group’s standard is broad and imprecise, and does not require companies to fully trace the source of their minerals so they know what happened from the mine to the finished product. And there is little monitoring to ensure that companies are actually following the RJC’s code.

There are a few leading companies among those we examined. Tiffany & Co. stands out for its ability to track its gold back to the mine, and for its thorough assessments of human rights impacts. UK jeweler Boodles has pledged to take steps to better assess its supply chain and to revising and expanding its code of conduct for diamond and gold suppliers. It recently conducted an audit on its sourcing practices, and while it has yet to make the results public, the company has committed to producing public reports on its findings.

Other jewellery companies — including many small jewelers – are increasingly making efforts to ensure that the gold directly from small-scale mines is produced under rights-respecting conditions. A number of small jewellers in the UK have formed a group called Fair Luxury, or FLUX, with the goal of promoting responsible sourcing from rights-respecting mines. Many FLUX members source their gold from Fairtrade or “Fairmined” certified mines, which go further than other voluntary standards to oblige mines to respect clearly defined labor rights requirements and monitors conditions regularly for compliance.

At International Jewellery London, FLUX hosted a series of presentations on human rights and jewellery supply chains, helping put responsible sourcing on the agenda of jewelers. At the standing-room only presentations, jewellers were keen to learn about and discuss strategies for improving sourcing practices, and communicate their efforts to the public. They also requested updated and ongoing reporting on efforts by the jewellery industry to address human rights in their supply chains.

All jewellery companies, big or small, have a responsibility to ensure human rights are respected in their supply chains. Many consumers —particularly younger ones — increasingly expect companies to act responsibly. International norms also make clear that companies should assess human rights risks in their product chains and ask their suppliers to provide them with detailed information about every step of the production process.

Ultimately, consumers need to know about what they are buying and that is why companies should report publicly about the human rights due diligence they are undertaking. All the jewellery companies at International Jewellery London should be transparent about where their gold and diamonds originate, and what they are doing to address human rights abuses in their supply chains.

Author: Human Rights Watch, Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

People are seen near a bus destroyed by an airstrike that killed dozens of children, in a photograph taken on August 12, 2018 in Saada, Yemen.

© 2018 Mohammed Hamoud/Getty Images

This news release has been updated to reflect a coalition news conference and statement on September 1 that the attack was carried out due to “mistakes” and that the coalition would “punish those who made these mistakes.” 

(Beirut) – A Saudi-led coalition airstrike that killed at least 26 children and wounded at least 19 more in or near a school bus in the busy market of Dhahyan, in northern Yemen, on August 9, 2018, is an apparent war crime, Human Rights Watch said today. Countries should immediately halt weapons sales to Saudi Arabia and support strengthening a United Nations independent inquiry into violations by all parties to Yemen’s armed conflict.

Since the Yemen conflict escalated in March 2015, numerous coalition airstrikes have been carried out in violation of the laws of war without adequate follow-up investigations, placing arms suppliers at risk of complicity in war crimes. Human Rights Watch has identified United States-origin munitions at the sites of at least 24 other unlawful coalition attacks in Yemen. The US is reportedly working to advance a sale of $7 billion in precision-guided munitions to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

“The Saudi-led coalition’s attack on a bus full of young boys adds to its already gruesome track record of killing civilians at weddings, funerals, hospitals, and schools in Yemen,” said Bill Van Esveld, senior children’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Countries with knowledge of this record that are supplying more bombs to the Saudis will be complicit in future deadly attacks on civilians.”

Human Rights Watch spoke by phone to 14 witnesses, including 9 children, who said that shortly before 8:30 a.m. on August 9, an aerial bomb hit the market in Dhahyan, a town 20 kilometers north of Saada in Houthi-controlled northwestern Yemen, 60 kilometers from the Saudi border. The bomb landed within a few meters of a bus filled with boys on an excursion organized by a local mosque to visit the graves of men who had been killed in fighting. The bus was parked outside a grocery store where the driver had gone to buy water for the children.

The witnesses identified 34 people, including 26 children and 4 teachers, all of whom they identified as civilians, who were killed in the attack, and said there was no evident military target in the market at the time. The attack killed 25 boys and wounded 13 boys on the bus, according to the witnesses, and also killed a boy and wounded six others who were near the bus. Some grieving parents said that the force of the explosion meant they were unable to recover any body parts of their children.

A 16-year-old boy working in a barbershop across the street from the bus told Human Rights Watch by phone from his hospital bed that the explosion was “like the flickering of a lamp, followed by dust and darkness.” He was wounded in the attack by metal fragments in his lower back and said he cannot move unassisted or walk to the bathroom.

A 13-year-old boy who was on the bus, who was also hospitalized, said he had a painful leg wound and hoped his leg would not be amputated. Many of his friends were killed. “Even if I am able to run and play in the future,” he said, “I will not find anyone to play with.”

Human Rights Watch received photographs and videos of munition remnants that a lawyer based in Sanaa, about 235 kilometers south of Saada, said were at the site. He had traveled to the site of the attack on August 11. He also took videos at the site showing the collected remnants near the destroyed bus in the market. The photos and videos of markings visible on a guidance fin for a GBU-12 Paveway II bomb show it was produced at a General Dynamics Corporation facility in Garland, Texas, as well as other markings identifying Lockheed Martin.

Human Rights Watch could not confirm the remnants were found near the site of the attack. However, the relative homogeneity of the fragments in thickness as well as condition, with no weathering or discoloration apparent, and the images of damage from the attack, are consistent with the detonation of a large impact-fuzed aerial bomb. Human Rights Watch has previously determined GBU-12 Paveway II munitions were used in coalition airstrikes that killed 31 civilians on September 10, 2016, and killed more than 100 civilians at a funeral ceremony on October 8, 2016.

The Saudi-led coalition, as it has in past attacks that killed civilians, has made various claims about the intended target of the attack. Coalition spokesperson, Col. Turki al-Malki, stated on August 9 that “the targeting today in Sa’dah Governorate” was a “lawful” attack on “the militants responsible” for a ballistic missile attack on Jazan, a city in southern Saudi Arabia, on the night of August 8. The ballistic missile was launched from Amran, a different Yemeni governorate, not Saada, according to the coalition. Al-Malki told Al-Arabiya television the attack targeted “insurgents on the bus.” He told CNN, “No, this is not children in the bus.… We do have high standard measures for targeting.”

On August 11, the Saudi Arabia Permanent Mission to the UN stated the attack “targeted Houthi leaders who were responsible for recruiting and training young children.... The military action also targeted one of the most prominent trainers of weapons.” No evidence was put forward to support these claims.

Under the laws of war, parties must do everything feasible to verify that targets are valid military objectives. Witnesses said there were no armed men in the market or on the bus, and videos taken on the bus before the attack do not show any fighters or weapons. Human Rights Watch could not confirm the absence of a Houthi military target in the vicinity of the attack, but even if it were present, the use of a weapon with wide area effects in a crowded market would have been unlawfully indiscriminate or expected to cause disproportionate civilian loss.

Individuals who commit serious violations of the laws of war with criminal intent – that is, intentionally or recklessly – may be prosecuted for war crimes. Individuals may also be held criminally liable for assisting in, facilitating, aiding, or abetting a war crime. All governments that are parties to an armed conflict are obligated to investigate alleged war crimes by members of their armed forces.

Despite initially discounting the possibility of an unlawful attack, the coalition later said it would investigate the strike. Coalition investigations seldom find wrongdoing. Human Rights Watch found that the coalition’s Joint Incidents Assessment Team (JIAT) has failed to carry out credible investigations since its establishment in 2016. Victims of strikes in which JIAT recommended the coalition provide some form of assistance also said they had yet to receive any form of redress.

In a news conference on September 1, Lt. Gen. Mansour Ahmed al-Mansour, a JIAT legal advisor, said the airstrike was not needed to prevent an imminent attack and should have been carried out when the bus was “in an open area to avoid such collateral damage,” but was not due to “a clear delay.” The coalition stated that it agreed with the JIAT assessment, “expressed regret” for the attack, and said it would “undertake legal proceedings to hold those who committed mistakes accountable,” and “provide redress or assistance to the victims.” Al-Mansour did not mention that scores of children were also on the bus, who would have been killed or wounded regardless of the location of the bus when the attack was carried out. Al-Mansour said the coalition had received intelligence information that a Houthi leader responsible for military training, identified as Mohammad Abd el-Hafeez Setteen, was on the bus, and that three other adults killed were responsible for recruiting and training fighters and producing IEDs, without providing further information to support these allegations. Children who were on the bus and their family members told Human Rights Watch that the four men were teachers, including Mohammad Abd el-Hafeez, whom the Houthi-led Education Ministry also listed as a 28-year-old teacher.

Shortly after the August 9 attack, the US State Department spokesperson said that the Saudi-led coalition should “conduct a thorough and transparent investigation into the incident.”

The Defense Department spokesperson said the US military was not involved in the Dhahyan airstrike, but endorsed US military efforts to reduce civilian casualties: “US military support to our partners mitigates noncombatant casualties, by improving coalition processes and procedures, especially regarding compliance with the law of armed conflict and best practices for reducing the risk of civilian casualties.”

A spokesperson for Lockheed Martin referred questions about the Dhahyan attack to the Defense Department. The Defense Department declined journalists’ requests to identify the source of the weapon used in the attack. The military later stated a lieutenant general’s already-scheduled visit to Saudi Arabia discussed “the need for a timely and transparent investigation” of the attack with Saudi authorities.

In November 2015, the US State Department approved the sale of 4,020 GBU-12 Paveway II bombs as part of a $1.3 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia, but the US halted parts of the sale involving precision-guided munitions in December 2016. The Trump administration reversed that decision in March 2017. In June 2017, the US approved another arms agreement based on Saudi pledges to reduce civilian casualties.

The United Kingdom and France also remain major arms sellers to Saudi Arabia. Germany has suspended arms sales to the warring parties in Yemen, and the Netherlands and Sweden have adopted more restrictive approaches to arms sales. A Belgian court suspended four arms licenses to Saudi Arabia over concerns about violations in Yemen. Norway has also suspended its arms sales to Saudi Arabia, and to the United Arab Emirates, which plays a significant role in military operations in Yemen.

“Any US official who thinks the way to prevent Saudi Arabia from killing more Yemeni children is to sell it more bombs should watch the videos of the bus attack in Dhahyan,” Van Esveld said. “The US and others should immediately stop weapons sales to Saudi Arabia and support strengthening the independent UN inquiry into violations in Yemen or risk being complicit in future atrocities.”

Death Toll and Witness Accounts

Human Rights Watch documented the full names, ages, and status of 34 people killed in the attack, including 3 teachers and 25 children who were on the bus, and a child, a teacher, and 2 other men in the market. In addition, witnesses identified 4 other adults in the market who were wounded, and 13 children on the bus and 6 children in the market who were wounded. The bus driver, who was in a store in the market, was not harmed.

The Houthi-run Education Ministry published a list of the names, ages, and other identifying information of the children and teachers killed, and of 51 people wounded in the strike (not counting repeated names), including 49 children. According to the Houthi Health Ministry, in total, 51 people were killed and 79 wounded.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) stated that 50 people were killed and 77 wounded, and that on August 9, Saada’s al-Talh hospital, which the ICRC supports, received the bodies of 29 children under age 15, and 48 people who were wounded, including 30 children.

Children who were on the bus said they were part of a summer program, which began in June, to study at the Grand Mosque from 7:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. daily, except Thursdays and Fridays. On August 9, they had gathered at the mosque at 7 a.m. for a special excursion to the Houthi “martyrs’ cemetery” and the Imam al-Hadi mosque. Nearly all the children on the trip were under age 14. The mosque had organized the same excursion for older students two weeks earlier. “The market was busy and the bus was full of boys,” said Ahmed Muhammad Ali Swayed, 16, who was in the market near the bus at the time of the attack.

Ahmad Abdul Rahman Mohsen Adlan, 13, told Human Rights Watch by phone that the attack had badly wounded his legs. Beginning in June, Adlan had taught summer classes on literacy and memorizing the Quran to 60 children ages 10 and under at the mosque. Five of his students were killed in the attack, he said:

We went to visit one of the cemeteries first, then we stopped at the grocery store near the post office to buy water because we were thirsty. I didn't hear anything, no explosion, and suddenly I was standing near a hole next to the bus. It was like a dream, as if the whole trip was a dream, or what is going on now is a dream. I didn't know what happened, but I was about to fall into the hole, and I turned and saw that beside me there were a lot of pieces of people, chopped-up people.

Three brothers who were on the bus – Ahmad, 14, Hassan, 13, and Yahia Hanash, 11 – said that the bus stopped so the bus driver could buy water, and that they did not see any armed men in the market. Ahmad, who can no longer hear in one ear, said:

Boys my age went on the first trip [two weeks previously], but my family was late in preparing breakfast that day and they heard airplanes, so I missed the bus. The teachers told me to go on the next trip along with my younger brothers. I saw bodies torn into pieces, pieces of my friends. Yahia was burned. I also got burned, wounded in my chest and hands, and my right ear was injured, I can't hear with it, I use the left now. Many of my friends died.… [There are] too many for me to mention all of them. They are all from the same neighborhood, the Grand Mosque neighborhood.

The boys’ father, Mohammed Ali Ahmed Hanash, 50, said he was grateful they were alive. “I saw Yahia, my youngest, in the ICU [Intensive Care Unit], vomiting blood, fighting death,” before his condition improved. The family had been displaced by fighting two years earlier from the Qatabir border district of the Saada governorate, where another boy was killed by a previous airstrike and a girl was wounded by a sniper, their father said.

Children who were on the bus named four teachers from the mosque summer program who were killed in the airstrike: Yahya al-Bishri, Mohammed Abdulhafeez, and Ali al-Hijri, who were on the bus, and Ali Fa’ie, who was killed in the market. All four were listed by the Houthi-run Education Ministry as killed in the strike, with three identified as volunteers and one as a regular teacher.

The children said three boys came up to the bus while it was parked and were talking to their friends through the windows, including Muhammad Saeed Ali Salman, 13; Hamid Muhammad A’edah, 10; and Zakaria Abdul Wahab Ali Fay'a, 11, a student at the mosque school who had gone on the first day trip two weeks earlier. “Zakaria rode up to the bus on his little bicycle and was chatting with friends, waiting for the driver to return to ask for permission to come along on the trip again,” one boy said. “He was torn to pieces.”

The attack killed and maimed workers and customers at small businesses in the market, including children. Tarash Ahmad Salam al-Sam’ae, 40, said the bomb landed about 4.5 meters from his barbershop and wounded his sons Ibrahim, 14, and Abdulrahman, 16, who had opened the shop at 8 a.m.: “I was at home having breakfast when I heard the whizz of the [bomb] and the blast, so I ran [toward the barbershop]. The whole market was dusty, people were running, children were thrown on the ground, some were dead, and some were fighting death.”

Human Rights Watch also spoke to Ibrahim, who was evacuated to al-Talh Hospital, and to Abdulrahman, in al-Jamhouri Hospital in Saada. Abdulrahman, a secondary-school student, said he saw the bus park across the street from the barbershop at about 8:20 a.m., where the driver got out and entered a grocery store:

A customer I had finished shaving was sitting inside, and another customer was near the door about to enter. […] I didn't hear a sound. I didn't lose consciousness. I left the salon and walked in the direction of my house, east. I saw Ibrahim walking near me. I was covered with blood, the whole area was bloody, everything was blood. I felt pain in my lower back. I did not look at anyone, I did not know what happened to the customers, I walked straight ahead. I could only hear one voice, the voice of someone calling out “Hamd,” from far away, like an imaginary voice. I think it was our neighbor, Jaafar, who died later, calling on his little son. My brother and I lay down, I couldn't finish the walk home. A piece of shrapnel entered my lower back and there is another in my legs. They told me that my spine is intact, but I can't walk now.

Jaafar Thabet Naji, 46, and his son Hamd, 15, were wounded and taken to a nearby clinic, but the father later died of internal bleeding, said his nephew Hamdi Ali Thabet al-Sam’ae, 28, who also works as a barber in the market.

The attack also killed two customers at a nearby cafeteria, and wounded six people, including five workers: Faysal Muhammad Abdullah al-A’zi, 38, a cook; his son Mo’atasam Faysal, 16; his brothers Ali, 25, and Mansour, 20; his nephew Ezz el-Din Saleh, 10; and another relative, Abdo Ali Yusef al-Haouri, 19. The attack severely damaged the cafeteria.

“Three customers came in after 8 o’clock, so I was cooking fuul [a bean dish] with eggs for them, and suddenly I lost consciousness,” Faysal Abdullah al-A’zi said. The bomb blast had blown off the kitchen door, which hit him in the head. “Two of the three customers died immediately, the other was wounded in the leg.” He said he knew of no military targets in the market. Abdo Ali Al-Haouri, an assistant baker, said the attack also killed the owner of the grocery store next door, Mohammad Abdullah al-Marani, in his 20s. Al-Haouri said he saw the summer school bus arrive and park across the street, and described a busy marketplace:

The market was crowded, all the shops were open. The bus driver got out to get something from a grocery store. On that side of the street, there are two grocery stores and a vegetable shop, and on our side, there was a grocery store, the cafeteria, and a barbershop. In Dhahyan, many areas were hit, but at the beginning of the war [in 2015]. The last airstrike was half a month ago, far away from the market. There is no military presence here, the only checkpoints are outside the market. There is a police patrol that comes and goes regularly but it is just one car.

A video taken about an hour before the attack, which was recovered from the mobile phone of Osama Zeid al-Homran, one of the boys killed on the bus, shows at least 30 of the children who were part of the excursion at a cemetery for Houthi martyrs. At least one of the same children can be identified in graphic videos showing children and adults killed and wounded in the attack.

The Munition

Photographs and videos of munition fragments show a 500-pound Mk-82 general purpose bomb fitted with a laser-guidance system that can strike within meters of its target. Markings visible on one of the remnants, a guidance fin, include “3LCX2,” a unique identification for US arms suppliers, known as a CAGE code, for General Dynamics Corporation, Ordnance and Tactical Systems Division, in Garland, Texas, which produces Mk-82 bombs. The CAGE code for Lockheed Martin was also marked on a different side of the guidance fin remnant. Human Rights Watch could not confirm that the remnants were found at the site. However, images of damage from the scene are consistent with the detonation of a large, impact-fuzed aerial bomb.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am